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02 December 2019

UnitedLex CEO warns 'over-hyped' AI is in danger of 'losing meaning'

Dan Reed steps into AI debate with The Times article claiming many are in denial about its potential

UnitedLex chief executive Dan Reed has warned that Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the legal market is “over-hyped” and “in danger of losing its meaning”. Writing in the UK’s The Times newspaper today (2 December), Reed argues that the hype around AI is making lawyers complacent about its true capabilities.

His comments coincide with research by US-based think tank Brookings on the impact of AI on occupations that warns that the technology will impact higher earning professionals, including lawyers and doctors.

Reed’s intervention in the AI debate has added resonance due to UnitedLex’s status as a leading legal disrupter with the ability to harness advances in technology to challenge law firms that operate using the traditional partnership model.

However, he is also at pains to underline the potential of AI to disrupt the profession.  

“The trouble is that with every run-of-the-mill software launch being labelled AI, the stories of genuine innovation are lost in the noise,” he writes. “The opportunities are golden — but the difficulty is in distinguishing between fool’s gold and 24 carat.”

He adds: “One problem is that parts of the legal profession are still in denial about just how fundamentally technology is revolutionising the legal landscape."

Impact on highly skilled workers

His comments are backed by a report published on 20 November by Brookings, which warns that, unlike with other advanced technologies, legal professionals will be particularly impacted by AI, along with other highly skilled workers.

“While earlier waves of automation have led to disruption across the lower half of the wage distribution, AI appears likely to have different impacts, with its own windfalls and challenges. White-collar, well-paid America—radiologists, legal professionals, optometrists, and many more—will likely get no free pass on this flavour of digital disruption.”

It drew on the research of a Stanford University PhD candidate who has quantified the overlap between the text of AI patents and job descriptions to develop an AI exposure score. 

The report states: “While lawyers may still make the ultimate decisions, lower-level researchers and paralegals may see their ranks dwindle as AI saves firms time and improves accuracy. And yet, while the net substitution of AI for some legal work seems likely, improved speed, volume, and accuracy could expand the industry enough to offset some of the aggregate employment losses.”

In June, US legal tech blogger Nicole Black stepped into the debate over the impact of AI on legal tech reassuring Above the Law readers that “there aren’t any actual robots practicing law and I’m pretty sure we’re not going to see that happen in the near future. Let’s face it: robots are still learning to walk and falling down isn’t out of the question. Rest assured, robots aren’t going to be lawyering anytime soon.” 

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